U.S. Representative Randy Forbes’s (R-Va) article in The Diplomat last month entitled “America’s Pacific Air-Sea Battle Vision” called upon Congress to support the Pentagon’s vision for Air-Sea Battle – a concept designed to improve the joint and combined ability of air and naval forces to project power in the face of anti-access and area denial challenges. More specifically, Rep. Forbes pointed out that the United States should “work to bring our allies into this effort.” Indeed, in order for the United States to effectively project power in an anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) environment, networked alliances and ad hoc coalition partnerships would be essential in making U.S. power projection in the Asia-Pacific more resilient and responsive to both the internal and external dynamics of the emerging regional security challenges.
To be sure, the United States faces a number of challenges in meeting its security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region. Beyond uncertainty, complexity, and rapid change, challenges include growing resource constraints and an increasingly assertive and capable China. At least one driver for rethinking U.S. defense strategy is the growing ability of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to complicate U.S. ability to project joint power and operate in the Asia-Pacific region. These emerging PLA A2/AD capabilities not only could complicate U.S. ability to operate, but also imperil regional powers’ ability to deny the PLA air superiority and command of the seas. Anti-access threats, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area, include long-range precision strike systems that could be employed against bases and moving targets at sea, such as aircraft carrier battle groups. Area denial involves shorter-range actions and capabilities designed to complicate an opposing force’s freedom of action in all domains (i.e., land, air, space, sea and cyber).
The Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle and the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) transcends pure operational and roles of services issues to include cooperation with allies and ad hoc coalition partners in the region, which is critical for ensuring the success of Air Sea Battle and assured operational access. As former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen said, Air-Sea Battle is “a prime example of how we need to keep breaking down stovepipes between services, between federal agencies and even between nations.” He further noted that the Services should “integrate our efforts with each other and with our civilian counterparts” and “work seamlessly with old allies and new friends.” Air Sea Battle and the broader JOAC shore up deterrence and demonstrate to U.S. allies and partners that Washington is committed and able to resist Chinese military coercion.
Addressing these challenges requires greater collaboration not only within the U.S. defense establishment, but effective leveraging of talents of allies and ad hoc coalition partners in the region. The U.S. reportedly has begun examining how to diversify defense relations with traditional allies in the region, such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Yet, little consideration appears to have been given to the significant role that Taiwan could play in an evolving U.S. defense strategy, including the JOAC and Air-Sea Battle. Taiwan’s future and U.S. interests in regional security are intimately related. Indeed, Taiwan is a core interest of the United States and has a pivotal role to play as an ad hoc coalition partner in Air-Sea Battle, JOAC, and the strategic rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific.
First, Taiwan should be the central guiding focus of defense planning in the Asia-Pacific region. In assessing JOAC and Air-Sea Battle-related requirements, the greatest emphasis should be placed on contingency planning for a PLA amphibious invasion of Taiwan with minimal warning. Based on a premature and faulty assumption that cross-Strait trade and investment will inevitably lead toward Taiwan’s democratic submission to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authoritarian rule, prominent analysts have asserted that the focus of U.S. defense planning should shift toward the South China Sea and defense of the global commons.